A new domestic rail pass and money-off vouchers for key attractions are part of the government’s plan to boost the beleaguered British tourism industry.
The UK tourism industry has been decimated by Covid restrictions, with cities particularly hard hit.
Pre-pandemic, the UK’s inbound tourism market was strong. In 2019, it welcomed 41 million international visitors, who spent more £28 billion while here.
Visit Britain estimates that in 2020, the UK received 11.1 million inbound visits, a 73 per cent decline from the previous year.
The Tourism Recovery Plan, laid out today by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), aims to recover domestic tourism to pre-pandemic levels by 2022 and international tourism by 2023.
Key to the plan is a new rail pass, due to be launched later this year, which will offer visitors flexible travel across the country and provide discounted entry to tourism attractions, much like the existing BritRail pass.
The other headline initiative is the £10m National Lottery Days Out scheme, due to be launched this autumn, which will give players the chance to claim vouchers for tourist attractions across the UK between this September and March 2022.
In addition, the government said it had earmarked £19m for marketing Britain’s cities and towns, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Next year is set to be a busy 12 months for inbound tourism, with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (and additional bank holiday), Festival UK 2022 and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will spur its own regional tourism campaign.
“Our brilliant tourism sector is one of our country’s greatest assets, making a huge contribution to our economy and delivering jobs across all communities,” said tourism minister Nigel Huddleston MP.
“The Tourism Recovery Plan is our blueprint for how the sector can build back better from the pandemic, even faster than forecasts predict.
“It’s been a challenging year for the tourism sector, especially for our cities, but I know they stand ready to welcome visitors back and I encourage everyone to rediscover the UK’s fantastic tourism offer.”
The plan was well received by those involved in the inbound tourism industry.
VisitBritain/VisitEngland chairman Lord Patrick McLoughlin said: “The UK government’s Tourism Recovery Plan is a welcome and important step on the industry’s road to recovery, recognising the economic potential of the sector, setting out a clear policy direction for the future and outlining the ambitions for domestic and international tourism.
“Tourism is a critical industry, a powerhouse of innovation, creativity and employment, injecting cash into the economy with a track record for growth and levelling-up, supporting local economies in every part of the UK and strengthening our place on the world stage.
“By working together to drive demand and build back visitor spend as quickly as possible we can emerge from the pandemic and also look towards a brighter future building an industry that is more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and innovative.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive officer of UK Hospitality, called it a “hugely positive and welcome recognition of the social, economic and cultural importance of the hospitality and tourism sector” ; while Amanda Cupples, general manager for Northern Europe at Airbnb, added that the accommodation platform was preparing for what it believes will be “the travel rebound of the century”.
However, Simon Calder, travel correspondent of this newspaper, was less optimistic about the prospects of attracting overseas visitors. “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, inbound tourism has been disregarded by government.
“The current extremely restrictive travel rules, while mainly focused on keeping Brits from straying abroad, have effectively eliminated inbound tourism for the next month or two. London would normally be full of high-spending visitors from the Gulf in summer, but the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are on the ‘red list’ with no prospect of that changing anytime soon.
“In October the problem of attracting visitors from Europe will intensify due to a ‘Brexit promise’: eliminating the option for EU citizens to travel to the UK using their national identity card.
“Despite the destruction of the coronavirus pandemic, the Home Office is pressing ahead with this change – which will substantially reduce the pool of European tourists who might be attracted to the UK. “